Sarah Kroll is a future trainee solicitor at DLA Piper based in Edinburgh. She studied International Relations with Classical Studies at the University of St Andrews, and worked in medical research administration in the United States for a year. She then decided to pursue a Graduate Entry LLB at the University of Edinburgh and begin her transition to a career in law.
How was your experience studying at St Andrews?
I studied International Relations and Classical Studies and while I enjoyed my degree, I was honestly not a very focused student. I put enough effort into my studies to comfortably get a 2:1 and was a better student in my honours years when I was able to choose my courses and dig a little deeper into the subjects that interested me. Having the ability to think critically about more theoretical and abstract things through my degree has also been helpful in the long-run.
I spent a lot of time involved in societies and was always on a few committees such as Model United Nations and the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Society committee. With the latter, the society published a literary magazine and organised some really big bi-annual events. These are still things I keep on my CV because they show the ability to work with people in a variety of ways and contexts. I also worked in a local pub which was a good way to break the “Bubble”.
How did you decide to pursue law?
I was not really sure what I wanted to do professionally during my undergraduate degree. While I had worked for a medical research practice during summers and was offered a full-time position when I graduated, I knew it was not something I wanted to do forever. When I was back in the US, I started thinking of my next steps to make my IR degree a bit more practical and find some opportunities to return to the United Kingdom. I was broadly interested in policy and politics and thought law would be a good way to make the lessons from IR a bit more applicable and employable.
Do you feel this professional work experience helped you when applying to firms?
Hugely, I think you can turn almost any experience from which you have learned something to your advantage, regardless of whether it is in a relevant field. Working a 9-5 job for a year definitely gave me a work ethic I did not have during my undergraduate degree and gave me a good sense of how to work in a professional setting and an office. A bit of knowledge about the pharmaceutical sector was also really helpful and I was able to get involved with projects in the area during my internship. Being a more mature student and having some more varied experiences definitely helped in applications and internships as well.
What drew you to commercial law in particular?
I initially thought about law quite generally. In school and at university, I always had international and humanitarian law in mind. However, international commercial law firms have incredible training opportunities, and the more I was exposed to them, the more interesting commercial law seemed to me. To combine my interests, I decided to focus specifically on firms with multi-jurisdictional work and strong pro bono departments.
Are there any practice areas you especially enjoy?
During my internships I really enjoyed Intellectual Property and Technology as I find IP licensing issues and the variety of work in the area very interesting. You get to work with more creative and scientific types, and the work is a bit more adaptable.
I am also very interested in litigation - I was super involved in mooting during my Graduate Entry LLB and while at a commercial firm you are doing more of the preparation of a case, I still quite enjoy researching issues and putting things together. I also got a chance to cover construction law a little during my diploma which was surprisingly interesting, so I would like to get a bit more exposure to that as well.
However, you never really know whether you will like something until you try it. It also depends on the people and mentors you can find in different departments and whether or not the seat is an enjoyable experience for you. There are several factors so I think it is worth keeping an open mind and trying different things during your seats.
How did you decide to complete a Graduate Entry LLB (as opposed to a conversion course) and what was this experience like?
Where I wanted to be and to practice was probably the deciding factor. I really wanted to come back to Scotland; I love London for visits, but the pace of life and work there is not really for me.
Scotland requires that all solicitors have a pretty broad basic education in family law, criminal law, evidence, etc. which was why I decided to do a Graduate Entry LLB here rather than a Graduate Diploma in Law. These are things that people aiming towards corporate traineeships might not be as interested in, but gaining an understanding of the system you are working in and the ethics of it is pretty valuable experience. I also enjoyed those courses even if they were not things I wanted to pursue.
It is also a full LLB and you receive a full law degree in two years. It is another year and more work than the conversion course, of course, but it is a bit more transferable if you are not sure where you want to end up.
How did you find your law degree?
People think of law as similar to arts subjects, but I found that studying it was very different. With IR, there is definitely reading and research required but a lot of it is making sure you understand theories and sitting with ideas for a while. Law, on the other hand, required a bit more of a work ethic for me. There is a lot of information that you have to learn and the methods of research are quite different. Learning how to interpret precedent, find analogous cases, and see how principles have been used and extended in different circumstances can be tricky at first.
Doing the Graduate Entry LLB was also made more enjoyable by the Graduate Entry law societies. It was wonderful to be surrounded by a cohort of lovely, hardworking, and focused people who were there for the same reason: making a career change and remaining very committed to their studies.
Having pursued law later in your career, what lessons have you gained from this experience?
You are sold this track of applications, vacation schemes, and traineeships, etc. and the whole process kicks off quite quickly when you start your studies. But there are lots of opportunities outside of that cycle that you can take advantage of; smaller and more specialised or boutique firms recruit much more irregularly. If you fail to get an offer in the first year, taking some time to get more experience and consider what you want to do is very valuable. Many of my colleagues have taken breaks or time out along the way so I think firms are starting to value more varied experiences, which is nice to see.
What attracted you to DLA Piper?
I met representatives from DLA Piper at the Law Fair during my first week studying law. The people at DLA Piper were very friendly and seemed genuinely interested in discussing their work and projects rather than trying to sell me a culture or experience. Meeting people from firms I am interested in and getting a sense of the firm’s priorities is key for me. Looking up the areas and sectors in which firms are highly ranked is definitely important as well. The firms that stood out to me the most were those with global reach and strong corporate social responsibility projects, so DLA Piper was ideal.
What was your experience like at the firm?
I had a really great experience with DLA Piper during my internship. For the first week they took us down to London where we had several talks from senior staff such as one of the co-global CEOs, the UK Managing Partner, and the diversity and inclusion team. We had some training on unconscious bias, a workshop with the pro bono team, and talks with the heads of different departments to give a little taster of their work and their experience with the firm.
After this, we had two weeks back in the regional offices - one week per department - which was a really good experience. I was definitely not getting coffee for anyone or doing any photocopying; it was pretty intense and they threw a lot of work at us to give a taste of what the daily life of the firm is like and get us involved in as much as they could in that short of a time.
Could you please tell us more about the pro-bono projects on which you have worked?
During the internship I undertook with DLA Piper, people were happy to chat about some of the pro bono work that was going on in different areas. I was invited to some meetings of the Charities Committee to get a broad picture of these projects. I was able to get involved in research for a conference on using artificial intelligence for access to justice by the Intellectual Property and Technology Department.
Anytime I had any downtime or needed a break from an assignment, there were projects I could help out with or things I could research to support the firm’s pro-bono and corporate social responsibility projects.
Do you have any advice for people embarking on their applications?
There is quite a lot I could say on this question and tips I learned the hard way. One of the biggest things is, no matter what path you have taken to get there, you can always sell your personal experience and the transferable skills that are applicable. I still keep my bar and undergraduate society work on my CV and list some of the responsibilities these entailed because I do think having that varied experience and showing you can work with a variety of people in a range of circumstances is valuable.
In regards to where you choose to apply, I would suggest casting a wide but selective net. Looking back I should have done a few more applications to be safe; I was quite picky and only did a handful. But also do not cast it too wide and make sure every application is tailored - it does take a lot of time and research but demonstrating that you understand the firm’s culture and priorities in your cover letter or application is really important. Putting in this research helps in finding what is a good fit for you rather than just getting into any firm. It is a bit subjective but it is good to see where there are people and attitudes you get along with and get as much exposure to firms through events to gain this sense. There are some I loved on paper but when I went to their presentation or open evening, they just did not seem a good fit for me and vice versa. It is again about keeping an open mind and going to as many open evenings and law fairs as you can.
Lastly, one thing that I see in a lot of cover letters is people only talking about themselves. Obviously, an application is not the place to hold back and you definitely want to highlight your accomplishments and skills. However, your CV should put forth your experience, qualifications, and grades so you do not need to rehash it too much. In the cover letter you can instead highlight why you would be a good fit at that particular firm with reference to its values and priorities. Show that you understand what they do, and why you would be suitable.
Sarah Kroll has also compiled a guide for those interested in converting to law. This outlines the pathways and key requirements for non-law graduates seeking to pursue a legal career in England, Scotland, the United States, and Canada.